Definitions of terms

Assistance Animal is an animal that is trained to perform at least three tasks or behaviours that reduce the functional impacts of a person’s impairment and is assessed by an authorised body for public access.

  • Dog Guide – is a type of assistance animal that is specifically trained to support people with vision impairment or blindness. The terms Guide Dog and Seeing Eye Dog are brands of dog guides.
  • Companion animal – is generally an animal kept for companionship or pleasure and otherwise known as a pet.
  • Emotional support animal – is an animal that provides informal support for a person with a diagnosed mental illness or condition.
  • Facility animal – is an animal that is trained to work in a specific facility or type of facility, like a residential aged care home. The animal may or may not live on-site.
  • Medical alert animal – an example of a medical alert animal is an epilepsy seizure dog. Epilepsy seizure dogs are intended to assist a person having a seizure by alerting the caregiver to the seizure, by moving in a way to protect the person having a seizure, or by activating an alarm.
  • Therapy animal – is an animal that takes part in therapy interventions that are led by a qualified allied health professional.
  • Visitation animal – is an animal belonging to a volunteer, who trains the animal to visit residential, health, or educational facilities, to bring enjoyment to the clients or students.


Animals that don’t fit the definition of ‘assistance animal’ or ‘dog guide’ are unlikely to meet NDIS funding criteria. This is explained in more detail later in this operational guideline. 

Other key definitions for this operational guideline are:

  • Functional outcomes – are measurable results linked with how well a person is able to perform specific tasks.
  • Mechanical restraint – is the use of a device to prevent or limit a person’s movement for the main purpose of controlling their behaviour.  Mechanical restraint is a type of restrictive practice.
  • Primary handler – is the person responsible for the control, care and wellbeing of the animal.
  • Public Access Test – is a test which an animal must pass to be considered safe and effective in accessing public places and public transport. This test varies across states and territories. Generally, this test should be conducted by an unbiased, independent assessor.
  • NDIS Participant assistance animal provider – is a provider demonstrating all the requirements to be registered with the NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission (the ‘Commission’). Generally, if a provider is not registered with the Commission they will be registered with the relevant state or territory body.
  • Restrictive practice – refers to any practice or intervention that restricts or limits the rights or freedom of movement of a person with disability. Any proposed restrictive practice requires a behaviour support plan with a clear plan to reduce and eliminate the practice, and appropriate authorisation and consent as required by the state or territory in which the person resides.
  • Suitability assessment – is an independent assessment of a participant’s suitability to receive and use an assistance animal from a NDIS Participant assistance animal provider.  This includes an assessment of the person responsible for the animal (ie. the primary handler), should this not be the participant (e.g. in the case of a child).